95th ABW commander reflects on heros, Veteran's Day

  • Published
  • By Col. Jerry Gandy
  • 95th Air Base Wing
I am honored to get to put a few words to paper in honor of Veteran's Day. It is a special day set aside to remind us of the sacrifices and service of our veterans ... men and women who have valiantly and selflessly devoted themselves towards something greater ... the United States of America.

Indeed this day helps us focus on the purpose of Veteran's Day: to celebrate and honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

When thinking about Veteran's Day and how I would like to address this subject, I searched the internet to see what others have said about this day. G.K. Chesterton said "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die." Elmer Davis added "This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave." Mark Twain said "In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man and brave and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot." From the Book of John, "Greater love has not one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." And finally, Cynthia Ozick said "We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude."

While the idea of a world without war is appealing, we have to remember that over the years, our veterans, through countless wars and struggles, have liberated oppressed peoples, ended genocide and toppled terrorist regimes. From the Revolutionary War to the current War on Terror, men and women from all walks of life share the common bond of an oath to defend this nation ... no matter the danger, or the enemy.

For this, we owe them a debt of gratitude; Today, and every day. With that in mind, it is with heartfelt pride that I salute our veterans for their service to our nation. Each of them who has answered our nation's call of "whom shall I send" with "here I am, send me," deserves not only a day of recognition each year, but a continuous recognition of the servant leaders that they are individually, and collectively, for being our nation's shield and sword.

Our nation requests its best and brightest answer the call of service, and through the years, so many have answered the call. It does not matter how much time someone served, only that they made the commitment and, in essence, made a covenant with our country, so that others could live freely.

As we think about giving thanks to our veterans, it's worth a moment to reflect on who our veterans are today. We remember our deceased veterans who have served and have been laid to rest. And we remember our living veterans, from World War I to our current conflicts. The times may have changed, and warfare has certainly changed, but the veteran is still the same hero.

Heroes like Master Sgt. David Larriva, who worked for us in our Explosive Ordnance Disposal section, who was awarded a Bronze Star and Combat Action Medal. He displayed courage under fire, leading 145 combat operations and personally eradicating 80 improvised explosive devices.

Or of the young heroes throughout our nation who since 9/11 have endured the hard missions in far away lands ... when people ask me about them, I am warmed by the memory of the excellence of America's youth in action ... these teenage and 20 something men and women should make us all so proud by selflessly serving long and difficult hours to ensure victory. Or Heroes like Col. Bryan Gallagher who passed away February 5, 2008 as the 95th Air Base Wing commander. He, his wife Lt. Col. Robyn Rentz and their daughter Morgan dedicated their lives to our nation, and enabled the Wing to soar when others would have fainted or failed ... he now rests in the company of more than 300,000 heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.

Pandit said "The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war." That is our essence at Edwards ... we sweat testing our nation's air and space power. This large patch of ground is hallowed for those of us who fly ... it is here that all great aerial vehicles have emerged ready to deploy for combat.

Our past and present heroes in test provide increased combat capability for future warriors. We test not for test sake, but to wisely invest America's treasure in preparing for war, to provide supporting and winning capabilities that bring us victory with the least amount of blood spilled. People like our test pilots and engineers who spend a vast majority of their career perfecting air and space power through developmental test. We in the Air Force have a mission to fly, fight and win ... and air dominance is a key component in accomplishing that mission. I have heard people say air dominance is NOT an American right. They are correct in theory, but in reality, it is an American right, it is our heritage, our lineage, our birthright, and our inheritance. That inheritance is not cheap, and it is not easy! It only looks easy because of the dedication of wonderful Airmen who have served through the years; Airmen like those here at Edwards whom continue to choose to put on the uniform and serve us each day. America has paid the cost required to enable air dominance ... and I am confident we will continue to do so in the future.

As General Hornburg so succinctly put it: "If there's a call for boots on the ground, we want to be the force that kicks down the door ... so that soldiers and Marines won't have to wade through their own blood as they win this war or the next one."

Air dominance is the first step in kicking down the door. Moreover, while we may offer silver for and properly celebrate second place in many sporting events, second place is never good enough in combat ... there is no substitute for victory ... America's Air and Space power offer both corner and capstone capabilities in enabling victory.

For as long as we have been the United States, we have had veterans. Our history is filled with their brave actions and quiet courage. Faced with different challenges, today's veterans are no different than those in our past. The theme of service before self in the Air Force - and in every service - is a constant one that binds our veterans together through the decades. Service before self is why we owe all of our veterans a debt of gratitude ... yesterday, today and tomorrow. On this Veteran's Day, let us remember and honor all those who have served, for they are truly heroes.

When I thought about how to close, a scene from one of my favorite movies played out in my mind and the words from the final scene of Saving Private Ryan came to me. As Capt. John Miller lies dying, he says to Private James Ryan: "earn this!" ... "Earn it!" And as the scene changes and Ryan recalls those words while looking at Captain Miller's tomb stone in Normandy, he thinks of his own long life, reflects and says, "Everyday I think about what you said ... I hope in your eyes I earned what you all have done for me" ... veterans, we hope in your eyes, that we too have earned it!